THE BLOG

Millions Of Britons Benefit From Freedom Of Movement - It Must Be Protected

17/01/2017 16:04
POOL New / Reuters

How often must we hear the lie that immigration causes low pay to fall? Or that migrants are to blame for the monumental strain facing our public services? Today Theresa May stood in front of the cameras of the world and said that Brexit "must mean control of the number of people" coming to our country. She said: "When the numbers get too high, public support for the system falters."

But she is not talking about numbers on a spreadsheet - she is talking about people. People who come to Britain to make a home, to travel, study, work, love, or for a hundred other reasons - and people from the UK who move to other European countries for a hundred more. I am proud to be co-leader of the only party standing up for those people, but I am also saddened that today the Prime Minister was so determined to stand against us.

Not only has Theresa May made those lives into mere "numbers" - she has in fact got her figures wrong. In her Brexit speech the Prime Minister said that immigration puts downward pressure on low pay. This is a myth that Labour appears to have rolled over and accepted too. Yet the Centre of Economic Performance tells us that there is in fact no evidence that EU migrants affect the performance of those who were born in the UK. Since 2004 the impact of migration on the semi/unskilled sector has been the equivalent of a loss in earning of about just one penny an hour.

Don't misunderstand me, I am not claiming that the quick movement of people can't affect wages temporarily - but what we need is the right policies in place to protect people. Not a blame game. If the Government really wants to help low paid workers in Britain it should give the country a real living wage - this would effectively be a pay-rise for those earning the least and it would protect both EU and UK workers from the race to the bottom currently facing low paid work. If public support for free movement has faltered, as Theresa May said today, then it is because she has failed to protect workers' rights while blaming migrants for the hardship people are facing as a result.

The Prime Minister also claimed that immigration is to blame for faltering public services - this despite the clear evidence that free movement boosts them. Theresa May knows as well as you and I that when we go to hospital we are far more likely to be treated by an EU migrant than we are to stand behind them in the queue. And we all know older people who are cared for by people from across the continent every single day. On top of this, University College London has found that between 2001 and 2011 European migrants from countries that joined the EU in that time contributed almost £5billion to our economy. Meanwhile in that same time frame British citizens received more in public spending than they paid in tax - we would be a poorer country in every sense without EU nationals.

Theresa May appears so determined to end free movement she will sacrifice our economy and our welllbeing at its altar. Not only does this utterly fail to acknowledge the economic and social value of the right to live and work across Europe - a right which is ours to share - but it is also a reckless gamble with the odds firmly stacked against us all. Our businesses, big and small, will lose membership of a market of 500million customers, and we all stand to lose the crucial environmental and social protections that come with the Single Market. We will all suffer for Theresa May's appeasement if the Brexiteers.

Millions of us benefit from free movement. Now is the time to extend these benefits and share them more equally - not shut them down altogether - and that is why today the Green Party launched a petition calling on the Prime Minister to protect freedom of movement. We know we are not alone in believing that we live in a welcoming, caring country but we must make that voice heard if we are to protect it for future generations.

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